O’s fans should be familiar with Matt Garza, as the hurler spent three seasons with the division rival Rays. Over three years Garza threw 592.1 innings for Tampa Bay, posting an ERA under 4 in each of those seasons. Over almost 1200 innings in his career, Garza has posted an ERA of 3.84, along with strong strikeout (7.62 k/9) and walk (2.99 bb/9) rates.
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Garza has posted solid if unspectacular numbers for his career. The question is, should he be paid like a top of the rotation arm. While certainly not a number one for a first division team, he’s definitely a solid 2 or 3 who can go out and keep the team in the game in nearly every start. He throws relatively hard, and relies primarily on a three pitch mix: 4-Seam Fastball (93.83 mph in 2013), Slider (85.38), and Sinker (93.24). He also occasionally mixes in a Change (85.99) and Curveball (75.56) to keep batters on their toes.
Unfortunately, Garza missed time in both 2012 and 2013 due to a stress fracture in his right elbow and lat strain respectively. Garza threw 203 innings in 2009, 204 innings in 2010, and 198 innings in 2011 before injuries cut him down to just 259 innings in 2012 and 2013 combined.
Despite the concerns that he uses just 3 pitches 87% of the time, or his injury history recently; Garza is one of the top arms available on the free agent market, ranking 7th overall on MLBTradeRumors‘ Top 50 Free Agents List. Tim Dierkes predicted that Garza would receive an offer close to 4 years and $64MM while the FanGraphs readers said they would give him a 3/$38.7MM contract. FanGraphs readers admitted that it’s likely that an actual deal for Garza would be closer to 4/$58.7MM. It seems likely that Garza will sign something that exceeds both FanGraphs and MLBTR’s expectations, but I doubt his contract exceeds $80MM by any significant amount.
That said, for a team like the Orioles, the biggest question with Garza is about his groundball rates. Each season with Tampa Bay Garza’s GB% declined:
2008 – 41.7%
2009 – 39.7%
2010 – 35.8%
Suddenly, after joining Chicago, Garza’s groundball rates skyrocketed. He quickly became a groundball pitcher, and did so with fairly impressive numbers:
2011 – 46.3%
2012 – 47.3%
Last season however, Garza’s GB% dropped to numbers that more closely resembled his numbers in Tampa Bay:
2013 – 38.6%
We all know that Camden Yards is a hitter friendly park, and pitchers with strong ground ball rates tend to have a better shot at success here. It goes without saying that Garza would be much more likely to succeed if his ground ball rate is between 45% and 50%, as opposed to the 35% and 40%.
The trouble for Garza wasn’t that his ground ball rate dropped because of an issue with one of his pitches. From 2012 to 2013, 4 of Garza’s 5 pitches saw a reduction in ground ball rate, which means that his difficulty with getting ground balls is deeper than just one pitch. It’s possible that Garza could overcome this with improvement in his Fastball, which saw elevated line drive and weaker ground ball rates in 2013. Garza’s sinker actually saw a significant improvement in 2013 over the previous year, which means there’s hope that he can get back to his ground ball-inducing ways. A chart of outcomes for Garza’s pitches in 2013 is below:
You can see that Garza was lucky with his HR rate last season, but there are some other potential issues in there as well. You can see that he struggles with command of his sinker to some degree, throwing balls 19% more often than strikes. No doubt he tries to keep that pitch down and out of the bottom of the zone, but you’d like to see him get more strikes with it. IF he could, then his usage of that pitch, and his ground ball rate would subsequently increase.
This seems to be backed up by the numbers, with usage of his sinker going from 15% in 2011 to 19% in 2012 and down to just 14% this past year.
Let’s assume that, at a minimum, Garza receives a deal in the 4 year / $65MM range this offseason. Is that a deal the Orioles should be interested in? No doubt Garza would bring much needed stability to the O’s rotation, when he could stay on the field. I’d likely slot him in just behind Chris Tillman in the rotation, giving you a top 3 of Tillman, Garza, Chen. If the O’s think that Garza can get back to his ground ball-inducing ways, he’d be a perfect fit for this team. Given the struggles out of the rotation in 2013, it’s possible that a healthy Matt Garza would be what puts this O’s team over the edge and into the postseason again.
For me, there’s little downside here. Sure there’s risk, but there is never going to be a risk free pitcher in baseball. His previous injuries don’t project to impact him moving forward, and he showed last season that he could bounce back from being injured. The O’s wouldn’t have to give up a draft pick, and Garza’s salary wouldn’t break the bank.
If you’re the Orioles, and you think you’re one pitcher away from a playoff run; that guy probably isn’t Scott Feldman. It’s probably Matt Garza. After all, you need to win those games in the playoffs if you want to keep moving on.